Monday, February 24, 2020
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Sotomayor calls for better civics ed

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, talking with teachers, law professors, and fellow judges about how important it is to teach kids to engage with government, the Seattle Times reports.

Sotomayor, 2012 (UDC David A Clarke School of Law / Flickr CC)

Her remarks echo the sentiments of Chris Reykdal, who was a social studies teacher before getting elected to the state’s General Assembly and, in 2016, to Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She reportedly spoke “with deep feeling” about immigrants—Ms Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. However, she stopped short of making any overtly political statements, but added that bulking up civics education is more important today than it has ever been. “You have to be taught what that means,” to be a citizen, she was quoted as saying. “If you teach people that they can make a difference, they will go out there and try.”

Mr Reykdal used the occasion to promote legislation now under consideration in the state that would create a statewide Civic Learning Initiative in partnership with the nonprofit Council on Public Legal Education:

  • three branches of government
  • the US system of checks and balance
  • the path a bill takes to become law

A recent survey found that only 26 percent of adults in the US could identify the three branches of the federal government. Ms Sotomayor and Mr Reykdal are hoping the new initiative and the iCivics website and computer games will improve that situation.

“Every computer scientist still needs to be engaged in their community,” the Times quoted Mr Reykdal as saying.

The iCivics program was started by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009. It presents students a series of games, including ones like “Do I have a right?” that simulate participation in government. In one scenario, players are running a virtual law firm and have to evaluate potential clients to determine if their constitutional rights have been violated.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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